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Local and Community News

California: Riverside County Supervisors Reject Needle Program

May 14, 2003

A divided Riverside County, Calif., Board of Supervisors on Tuesday rejected proposals to provide drug addicts with clean hypodermic needles, a program advocated by the county's top health official to stem hepatitis C and AIDS. The board voted 3 to 2 to forbid needle exchange clinics in the county and to oppose pending state legislation that would allow pharmacists to sell needles without a prescription. The supervisors who rejected the proposals said they agreed with the strong opposition expressed by the Riverside County sheriff, the district attorney and other state police organizations that believe needle exchange programs promote the use of illegal drugs.

The proposals were Public Health Officer Gary Feldman's third attempt to convince supervisors to declare a public health emergency and allow the Inland AIDS Project to conduct a needle exchange in Riverside County. As an alternative, he sought the board's endorsement of a state bill that would allow drug users to buy 30 syringes at a time without a prescription. Egan Moreno, IAP's education director, said his group would continue trying to convince supervisors that exchanges do not increase drug use.

Supervisor Bob Buster suggested creating a pilot program to see if needle exchange programs are effective, but no action was taken on his proposal.

Riverside County has an estimated 12,000 intravenous drug abusers, according to the county Community Health Agency. About 60 percent of the county's hepatitis C cases, 23 percent of its AIDS cases and 4 percent of its hepatitis B cases can be attributed to sharing syringes, according to CHA.

"I was devastated," said Anna Barker, 46, who runs a group home for recovering addicts and their children. The Riverside woman is a former heroin addict who has been clean for two years. But her blood carries a potentially lethal legacy of two decades of addiction and sharing needles: hepatitis C. District Attorney Grover Trask said that allowing needle exchanges "would put additional burdens on law enforcement and would certainly draw individuals that were intravenous drug users from areas around the county and outside the county."

Back to other CDC news for May 14, 2003

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Adapted from:
Los Angeles Times
05.14.03; Seema Mehta

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
See Also
Ask Our Expert, David Fawcett, Ph.D., L.C.S.W., About Substance Use and HIV
Needle Exchange & HIV/AIDS: California